So why the frustration? For me personally, as I switched to Fever last year, losing the service won’t impact my personal consumption of information via RSS feeds. Before I get into it I’ll offer up an explanation of what RSS is – if you are already in the know you can skip it or go ahead and read it to critique my approach to defining it.
So What Is RSS?
For those who are reading this please note I will not try to get too technical, rather explain the process. RSS is a method of informing of new content published, It is achieved by posting some or all of that content and related meta data, links, inages, etc. to a data file. This data file has a particular structure as it is formatted in the XML language (I won’t get into XML here, but if you must follow this link to learn about XML). That data file is placed on a Web server for anyone to access or subscribe to with a public Web URL (the file can also be private too, but I digress). Whenever content is added or any is changed or deleted, the publisher of the content can update the RSS file. As this file can change frequently, it is referred to as an RSS feed, as in feeding new content to the consumer of it.
The RSS feed in itself is not the only place where the power of RSS lies. Software, called an RSS feed aggregator or an RSS reader processes these RSS feeds that are subscribed to and organizes them to present the content to the consumer. There are a variety of RSS feed readers out there, from installed software, mobile apps, Web services (like Google Reader), as well as Web browsers and email clients. The reader also keeps track of what has been read, so that when the RSS feed is updated, it will show new vs. old content, among other features as linking to the source content on its Web site and social media and email sharing functionality. This concludes this RSS overview – let me know if it is clearer to you, or clear as mud.
Now Back To Our Story
Of all of the RSS readers out there, one of the most popular has been Google Reader, It’s power has been in its simplicity and robust formatting and sharing features, plus the fact it was from Google and integrated well into your Google account and that it was a free Web service. So when it was announced that what may be the most widely used RSS reader is going away in a few months, there was much shock and dismay, not only from people who use Google Reader to consume content but from content publishers as well, as an important channel may go away if those consumers of content do not find an alternative to Google Reader.
So why would content publishers be upset? They are still publishing the content so people can still seek it out to read it. First, I’ll give a perspective to who all of these publishers are. When one thinks of RSS feeds, they often only think of blogs and news. Most all blogging software includes out-of-the-box the ability to generate an RSS feed or multiple feeds, and typically you have to make an effort to turn this off. Many believe – including myself – that RSS feeds plus the ease of publishing have led to the popularity and success of blogs. News Web sites are a perfect match for RSS as they are constantly publishing content. This is why most sites not only offer 1 feed but many have a feed for each section of the site or content categories, such as breaking news.
Beyond blogs and news, many Web sites and information sources offer RSS feeds. A quick look at my own personal RSS feeds show job postings and news from company Web sites, weather forecasts, LinkedIn status updates for all of my connections, sports scores, discount shopping offers, Twitter searches and of course blogs and news.
As I talked about in the previously-mentioned iGoogle post, for me RSS is my main source for information. Moving from Google Reader to Fever has not diminished this at all. However what many fear is that people won’t seek out one of the many alternatives to Google Reader out there, and it could signal that RSS is no longer a viable technology or medium, just because Google is dropping Reader.
RSS Is Simply Not In Google’s Future
This past week’s announcement from Google is not the only activity they have taken against RSS. It has been slowly dismantling and marginalizing its FeedBurner service, which is an RSS “enhancer" providing analytics like subscriber counts, the ability to subscribe to a feed by email and other features to a “burned” feed. FeedBurner has always been a free offering from Google since it bought the eponymous Chicago-based start-up several years ago. Though it integrated inline advertising thru its AdSense service, it never really innovated the overall FeedBurner service or further integrated it like it has done with other acquisitions. Even FeedBurner's look and feel has barely changed over the years.
Recently Google announced it was shutting off the FeedBurner API as well as AdSense for RSS feeds. As a result there have been rumors abound that Google will shutdown FeedBurner altogether. Despite this Google has been silent on these rumors. Now with the announcement of Google Reader, people are biting their lip waiting for the other shoe to drop, and looking to other services like FeedBlitz to replace FeedBurner and keep similar functionality along with keeping their RSS feed live.
RSS Still Not A Household Term
By what I have described here regarding the power and simplicity of RSS, you would think that everyone is using it. However that is not the case. RSS, though a free open standard, has had an image problem in my opinion. It’s as though it’s too “techy” for the average person and as a result has not had universal adoption. Though it has a familiar orange icon and browsers and email clients now process feeds, it is not a completely seamless process to subscribe to a feed. Other than Google, not many large service providers with anywhere near the same name recognition have offered RSS readers. RSS has an identity crisis, with emphasis on the latter word ‘crisis.’
What’s Next For RSS?
Just because Google Reader is going away, RSS is not. And in reality, it can’t! As it’s an open standard, as long as someone is publishing an RSS feed file and someone is processing it, RSS is more than alive and well.
Over the past few days I have seen a lot of activity online from those looking for alternative RSS readers such as Fever that I use. A am also sure that entrepreneurs are coming up with innovative alternatives, and I wouldn’t be surprised if another major player makes a goodwill PR move into RSS feed reading as well. On another note, I predict FeedBurner will be eventually shutdown by Google, though that is a whole other blog post on the impact and recovery from that!
#VIVARSS! Do you agree? If so or not, I welcome your comments to this post. And if you do comment, please indicate whether or not you subscribe to The Hot Iron’s RSS feed.
This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.
It’s almost hard to believe that it has been over a year since the TV in our home met its demise. What is probably more surprising is that we never replaced it over that last year, and in all reality my wife and I can’t say we have really missed it.
On January 10, 2012, our TV would not turn on. After checking power and all other connections we concluded the TV had shown its last programming. Why do I remember that date? No, I did not write it down, rather I thought it was ironic that it happened on the day of the New Hampshire presidential primary as I bought the TV at the Lechmere store in Salem, New Hampshire back in the early 90’s. Yes, this was an old TV, a 27” Sony Trinitron with a picture tube. It most certainly was not high-definition, but as of late, but Elmo seemed to look ok on it to our kids.
I’m Not Anti-TV
Before I continue let me make it clear – I am not anti-TV. I did not intend or go out of my way to rid our home of a TV. I have always had a TV of my own since I went off to college many moons ago and have been watching cable TV since it was first wired into my childhood home’s black and white TV back in the early 80’s. Where I will admit that sometimes I let the TV control my schedule and probably watched more than I should, most of my TV diet was of the news and some dramas, and of course Elmo.
When the TV never came back on, we had a decision to make. At the time it was a major expense we weren’t expecting to take on. We also noticed that the kids weren’t really expressing interest in watching anything with it not working. It was the latter more than the former which led to the decision to not replace it.
Have I Missed It?
When you take any element out of an environment which commonly has a great focus to it there is a form of a void. When the massive tubed TV departed to the recycling center, that was the case in our living room. Though we did fill the space with a much smaller replacement –more on that below – it was still a different dynamic, especially as there was not as much noise and sound coming from the spot in the room.
Stimulus aside, not having the TV available to watch “something” was a slight adjustment, but not a major behavioral change, at least for me. Though much of what we watched was news and home and cooking shows, it was nice to have these available when we wanted some (as my wife always says) mental chewing gum. But where we were always aware of our kids watching too much TV, we didn’t always apply the same standard to ourselves. Not that it was always a bad thing though!
In some regards, I do miss having a TV readily available. But on the other hand, I have somehow managed to live without it as well.
Alternate Media Delivery
Though we did not replace our TV, our home is not completely devoid of video entertainment. I connected an LED computer monitor to the WD Live TV box we already had (like a Roku, a media streaming device) and our home theatre so we could still watch movies, videos and some streaming programming. Though not completely ideal, it passed the main test as Elmo looked good on it. Later in the year we got an iPad so we were able to introduce Netflix and Amazon video to the mix, along with apps from TV and cable stations so we could keep up with video news if we needed to.
By the time the TV went kaput, I was already getting my main meal of news and information from sources other than on TV. Using my RSS feed reader, I was subscribed to a multitude of RSS feeds from news outlets, media channels, bloggers and other sources to keep me more than informed. Podcasts and Sirius XM satellite radio have rounded out the text with audio nicely. I was able to scan the headlines much easier and dig deeper as I needed to, all without being beholden to a TV news schedule (I did not have a DVR, nor do I ever want one!).
Where nothing can truly replace anything, this overall experience has come close to what we had before. Couple it with watching TV sporting events at local pubs and watching one of the TVs in the conference at the OfficePort Chicago co-working office space have filled in the gaps nicely, especially as those gaps have mostly been with sporting events.
Is there a TV in our future? Possibly. As the LED monitor isn’t completely ideal (did I mention it’s only a 19”?) or compatible with our other equipment (the LED monitor won’t play Netflix videos because it is not HDTV compatible) we are contemplating buying a TV for better viewing, but wouldn’t go any wider than a 32”. Even with this, we would not get cable TV again. An HDTV would allow us to watch local channels if we really want to, and our limited video viewing (a.k.a. Elmo) will continue as is.
If we really need a local TV fix, we can always walk a few blocks to the CBS 2 street-front studio and see Rob and Kate live.
I’m interested to hear if any of my readers have also cut the cord to their TV and their experience with it. Or if you think I am nuts for not having one, feel free to say that too in the comments to the post.
This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.
Back in late December, 2012 and early January, 2013, a small but might event occurred across the US – Hug Train USA. As the name implies, there was a journey across the country by train, stopping in major cities and offering hugs and raising money, all in the name of mental health.
Rather then telling the story myself, I asked Arié Moyal to tell it himself. The format is in the order of the 6 Questions I have asked in the past, but as a video. It was recorded on January 3, 2013 on his second stop in Chicago. If you can’t see the video below you can view it on YouTube.
If you would like to get involved with Hug Train USA you can learn more at their Web site or you can follow them on Twitter or Facebook.
This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.
On December 30, 2012, with no fanfare (once again), this blog – thehotiron.com – turned 6.
Where I got back into a small groove of blogging as of late, I am over a month late in acknowledging the anniversary of this venue. Like last year where I tried not to set unrealistic expectations, I will not set any again, and rather would like to take the opportunity to thank you, my loyal readers, who have given me the encouragement to keep writing and keep The Hot Iron going! Without you, I would be simply talking to myself.
So let’s see what THIS year has in store…
This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.
They say all good things must come to an end. Even if that thing is to be replaced by something else, often is the case the sentiment and meaning of the old thing is never truly brought back. This is how I feel with the recent closing of Daley Bicentennial Plaza in Chicago.
Daley Bicentennial Plaza was created in 1976 on top of a parking garage and named after late mayor Richard J. Daley. It consisted of a park district fieldhouse where classes and events were held, as well as tennis courts, walking paths, picnic areas, an ice rink and a playground. Located at the northeast corner of Grant Park, it paled in comparison to its newer sibling across the street, Millennium Park. And though it was connected to it by the Frank Gehry-designed BP Bridge, Daley Bicentennial Plaza was never overly crowded and not a major tourist attraction in itself. Its simplicity may not have drawn visitors, but it served the residents of the area perfectly.
This is why I always called it the Locals Park.
It was reported there was major water leaking from the park into the parking garage below it. The only way to repair the leak is to put a new membrane on top of the garage. In order to do this, the entire park has to be removed, destroying hundreds of trees and removing everything on top of it. What stood for over 35 years was to be obliterated. This I actually understood as a similar project occurred in Boston in the 1990’s when the parking garage under the Boston Common was leaking, however in this case only grass was removed as that was all that was on top of the garage.
Once the roof of the garage is repaired, a new park will be rebuilt on top of it. It will be named Maggie Daley Park after the late wife of former mayor Richard M. Daley, and the daughter-in-law of the previous namesake. From pictures and plans I have seen, it will be a beautiful park, complete with a rock-climbing area, new playgrounds, ponds and a skating ribbon. The new park is scheduled to open in about 2 years.
While the work is being done to repair the garage roof, there will be a major loss to the residents of the community, especially for those with kids. The playground – or playlot as it was called – was the center piece of the park for myself and my family, as well as many families that live downtown in the Loop. Surrounded by plenty of tall shade trees and with great views of the city skyline, it was an ideal location with a great set of equipment for kids to play and explore and get tired out on. Several times a week my kids would be climbing around and running on the rubberized surface, whether it was hot and sunny or cold and snowy out. When you live in a high-rise and you simply can’t open your backdoor to let the kids run around in the backyard, this was their backyard.
As my wife and I are raising “city kids” they have grown up on this playground and park, and we have the pictures to prove it! From infancy to today over the almost last 5 years we have images and video of our kids literally growing up in the park. Our oldest daughter’s first “friends” birthday party was held in the fieldhouse, and she used to attend play programs there until she started in school. The first time our oldest was on ice skates was on the rink in the park, which was nearly empty as compared to the rink over at Millennium Park. Seeing the kids at various ages using the same equipment in these pictures will always bring back fond memories for us. And not to forget times we spent in the park before the kids were born, whether it was walking in the untouched new-fallen snow or watching fireworks or just getting away from the sounds of the city. When the park was about to close my wife and I pondered the idea of taking “last” pictures of the park, but I decided not to, as we already have hundreds if not thousands of pictures of it already.
Clearing the old park has already begun. As seen in the photo below, on the left is what this pathway from Randolph Street into the park from the west used to look like, and on the right is what it looked like about a few weeks ago.
I was also amazed at how trees were being removed. The video below shows a tree being removed by a piece of heavy machinery which first grabs the tree, then cuts it close to the stump. From there, the stumps are ground up and the tree is gone. If you can’t see the video below you can view the video at YouTube.
Though this video is a sad image, it will be the furthest from my mind when I reflect back on the time I and my family spent in Daley Bicentennial Plaza over the past years. Of course the replacement will be a great addition to the city, but it just won’t be the same, and even though the new park will be progress for the city, fond memories of what once was will always remain. The new park will be a great park, but I am not sure if it will be a Locals Park after all.
This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.
To all of my friends and readers in the US and abroad who celebrate the American holiday of Thanksgiving, a happy and peaceful and fulfilling holiday!
Thanks go to the Web site Keep Calm and Posters for the Thanksgiving poster. If you have seen these posters around and are wondering about their origin (as I was) here's a great article from Wikipedia about the original Keep Calm and Carry On poster, whose roots are ironically British.
2012 has turned out so far to be a very interesting year for me in many ways, and there's still a lot to happen in the next few weeks. I am thankful for my lovely bride, my 2 lovely princesses and all of my family, whether they are blood relatives or not. So even if you live someplace where there is no Thanksgiving, I hope you are thankful for all you have and the opportunity for more!
A recent article on the Kansas City Star’s Web site by Diane Stafford titled, “Why young achievers don’t stick around” caught my attention, in addition to the fact it was promoted in a weekly LinkedIn email. The topic of team building, motivating, mentoring and leading your team is one that means a lot to me. The article referenced a Harvard Business Review study and research on exit interviews, both of which talked about how young workers will only stay around a company as long as they have opportunities for growth, training and to receive mentorship. Otherwise, they will leave and go elsewhere.
When I read this, my reaction was, “duh!”
The same conclusions of these sources are something I have experienced numerous times in my own career in high technology – as an employee myself, as a manager and as a colleague of other managers who lament over the loss of people on their teams. After reading this, my own beliefs and philosophy in management and leadership were reaffirmed, and I am writing this to discuss this topic and observations I have made over my career.
You Hire A Person, Not Just Their Skillset
Allow me to repeat that, you hire a PERSON, not just their skillset. As obvious as this may seem to some, time and time again I see recruiters and hiring managers looking just at what skillset the person has and how immediate they can contribute to the company, team and bottom like. Of course this is important, however they often overlook the entire person – who they are, what types of experiences they have had in the past, what they do outside of work and what their goals and interests are. The individuals who overlook these important attributes often lack vision themselves, or the manager is more interested in their own goals rather than those of the team.
Many managers are looking to simply make their jobs easy for themselves, expecting their team to just “git ‘er dun” without any regard for their team’s wellbeing and growth. A perfect example of this is the job titles that are prevalent in many Web technology jobs, which include qualifiers like “rock star,” “guru,” and “ninja.” With labels like these employers are looking for the best, but are they also willing to give their best back to the employee, with a positive venue of personal and professional growth?
The True Cost Of Developing Your Team
When management looks at what it takes to give their employees what they need not only to succeed but to grow, they are always fixated on the dollar figure. Many companies have cut back on employee training and other growth opportunities with the justification that once the employee gets this benefit, they will just leave for a new job. Granted that can happen, but they may still leave if the opposite happens and they don’t get growth and mentorship in your company. Where you may have saved on training, conference and time taken for mentoring, you are now spending It on recruiting, recruiter fees and the time it takes to review, interview and vet the replacement employees. In many cases those costs are actually higher but not realized as such as they may be spread over several departments where staff development may only apply to the department they are in.
You Must Believe For It To Happen
In order for people who work for a company to get the growth and attention they crave, management must believe in it. Those managers who do are what I truly call leaders. Sure, some companies may say they do, but if it is not marked against a manager when his staff doesn’t get these opportunities, it truly it not a culture that believes its success is tied to the growth and success of its people.
Like Anything Growth And Mentorship Must Be Defined
In most businesses if it is not defined it will not happen. The same goes for developing your team. To whatever degree you want to do it, write it down, include it in the employee manual and promote the heck out if it. Even small teams can offer budgeted dollars for formal training classes or to attend seminars or conferences. This can include covering either the entry fees and/or the time off from the office. An added feature can be that this budget can be exceeded when the staff is presenting or speaking at such events, where they are a representative – and brand promoter – of your company.
When it comes to mentoring, it should be stated what and how the company looks out for its staff, and what defined meetings or metrics are in place. The challenge here is that not all managers may have it in them to be mentors. In that case, training for mentors can be implemented or mentors from outside the firm who have a vested interest in it (e.g. investors, board members) can be assigned to staff. What better way can there be to ensure of the company’s success than working with its people at all levels?
Strive For Action Not Perfection
If your company doesn’t have a growth or mentorship program or you are a new business, then just start one. Define, review it and refine it with 360 degree feedback from those on the giving and receiving end of the program.
Career Growth and mentorship have always been things I have strived for as a manager. As a small business of 1 person I admit I have not always been the best boss to my 1 employee – me. But if you are to grow, you need to consider the time and cost investment in your people along with everything else you do to bring the on-board your firm.
Agree? Not agree? Not sure? I welcome your comments and questions.
Where you’ll rarely find a retail merchant who doesn’t accept credit cards, you’ll find plenty of professionals – from painters to physicians – who do not. Whenever I ask one why they don’t, whatever reason they give me is almost predictable to me, especially as I am a small business person who didn’t always accept credit cards. Despite this, I look back on my decision to do so as a wise one. Rather than counter common reasons, I’ll present it by benefits, as well as how to decide how to accept them.
Credit – AND Debit Cards
Today most all debit cards are branded with a credit card company logo, so automatically when you accept credit cards, you are able to accept debit cards too. This is not only good to know as some people only have a debit card rather than a credit card, but also for the various “sources” of debit cards, including:
Flexible Spending and Health Savings Accounts – Most FSA or HAS accounts provide their insured customers with a debit card, and not checks, so the only other way to draw from the account is to pay in cash or check, then submit a claim for reimbursement. As a result, patients would prefer to pay by debit card and not have to front the money and wait for it to be reimbursed to them.
Unemployment Benefits – Some states, including Illinois, pay unemployment benefits by addingto the balance of a debit card rather than sending a check. Thus, this may be the best – of not only – way for someone to pay you.
Gift Cards – Just because it was given as a gift it doesn’t mean it has to be spent that way.
PayPal – You can draw on your PayPal account balance by debit card to a merchant or even at an ATM, and many people choose this rather than transferring the funds to their bank account.
Credit Card Fees Vs. Getting Paid Sooner
The fees, the fees! Yes, credit card processing involves fees, where depositing a check usually doesn’t. The best argument I can give in justifying the fees is getting paid sooner when someone pays with a credit card than with cash or a check. Why? In order to pay by cash or check you need to have the money on hand (not considering overdraft protection on your account or just overdrawing your account) where a credit card, providing they have credit available, someone will let you process it right away or sooner than the terms you have offered them. If there is any delay, it may be to wait until after a billing cycle closes so the charge appears on a statement in 2 months as compared to the next one.
My personal experience with my Web consulting business has shown me that clients who pay by credit card typically pay me in HALF the time of my terms with them, which are net 30. Some of them have asked me to pay them when I generate the invoice. For me, that’s huge!
Credit Card Fees Vs. Not Getting Paid At All
Earlier I mentioned I didn’t always accept credit cards. The catalyst for me was when I presented a proposal to an existing client for a new Web site project. They said they didn’t want to proceed right away as they did not have the cash on hand, but if they could charge it they could. I wanted the project to happen and I also realized that at some point I would have to accept credit cards, and there’s no time like the present! By the end of the day I was setup to process cards and ran theirs, and the project began the very next day.
The Magic Numbers For Determining Credit Card Fees
There are many ways to process credit cards, and I will get to that next. Before you inquire you need to know 2 key inputs to how credit card fees are calculated – the number of transactions per month and the average transaction dollar amount.
Any processor that can provide customized rate plans will use these values to determine what they will charge. As you can guess, the higher these numbers are the less your fees may be. Where you may be able to accurately calculate these values, others may not, especially if you have never processed credit cards before. If not, you can survey your customers to see if they’d prefer to pay you by credit card. If you still have no idea – no worries, as that can help narrow the choices for you initially.
Choosing A Credit Card Processor
Below is a list of some credit card processors and is not meant to be an exhaustive list. In addition to these, talk to colleagues or other business owners for ideas on who they may use.
PayPal – The pioneer in person-to-person is ideal for business as well, especially if you don’t know your transaction volume, or if you do and it is sporadic. PayPal charges per transaction only and has no monthly fees, though the per transaction fee may be higher than others. PayPal offers Web online payments as well as a smartphone card reader.
Square – The newcomer introduced the smartphone card reader and now others are adding it to their feature set like PayPal and Groupon. Square offers per transaction as well as flat monthly fees. Soon you will be able to buy a Square at Starbucks stores.
QuickBooks - Intuit’s QuickBooks and QuickBooks Online integrates credit card processing right into their software and Web site functionality. This reduces extra steps – and vendors – and provides a 1-stop shopping with a quick turnaround on setup. Their fees may be higher than what you can get from a bank, and they do charge a monthly fee even if there are no charges for a month.
Your Bank - The bank where you do your business banking may go the extra mile to keep credit card processing under the same roof as your bank accounts. They can provide custom rates by volume and can waive setup fees. They will charge a monthly fee but it could vary by volume. I’d suggest looking into all options first and presenting all of this to your bank to see if they can match or beat it.
Note no matter which way you can start, you can always change if your volume changes.
I’d welcome your feedback and comments on this, and even if you’re still not convinced to accept credit cards.
A story that received little press, even tech circles, was how a blogger was flown to Berlin, Germany to attend and objectively cover the IFA 2012 conference by technology firm Samsung. When the blogger, Clinton Jeff, arrived there from his home in India, he was told instead he was to be a rep for Samsung and demo their technology to attendees of the conference. When he refused, Samsung threatened to strand him there and would not pay for his hotel or return flight. In the end, rival mobile technology firm Nokia paid for Jeff’s stay in the German capital and his return flight home, allowing him to cover it as he saw fit. This was first reported on The Next Web in this post.
Where I personally don’t know Clinton Jeff, I do read his blog Unleash The Phones and follow him on Twitter, and I do know people who know him and he is well-respected in mobile tech circlers. So if he says this happened, I have to believe it. And from Samsung’s response it reinforces their blunder.
A part of the story that was barely touched on by the reports out there was how Nokia paid for his extended stay and flight home. Where some may say this was simply a smart PR move by a competitor, I agree it is. However this in line with how Nokia works with bloggers. How do I know this? Because about 2 years ago Nokia flew me to Berlin to attend a conference and cover it how I saw fit, and I had no logistics issues at all.
Nokia has a strong word-of-mouth social media marketing program called Nokia Connects, which back when I went to Berlin was called WOMWorld/Nokia. It is facilitated by Nokia and WOM agency 1000heads. The program loans new mobile devices to bloggers and others to evaluate and, if they choose, write about it. I say it this was as in all encounters with Nokia connects for over 4 years now, since I went to Nokia OpenLab, they have never even eluded slightly that I need to write something or what I should write.
If this concept is new to you, a thought going through your head may be – why? Why would a company spend money on an international flight, hotel, ground transportation food, admission to a conference for not just 1 person but 3 to cover an event without any expectation of the quality and quantity of what they write? That’s exactly the point! Granted the people they invite are people that will be writing something. But this is why Nokia’s word-of-mouth program is popular with bloggers and successful for the brand.
Diary From Berlin
To better explain, I’ll share more of the itinerary of the trip to Berlin in November 2010. I attended Microsoft TechEd, an international developers conference for those who work with Microsoft technology. Nokia was an exhibitor and had a keynote address on its collaboration with Microsoft for an Outlook/Exchange email client app on Nokia devices as well as other sync technology. Nokia invited me, Dennis Bournique and Craig Richards to cover the event. It was by no means an earth-shattering announcement, and we had no idea only a few months later Nokia would announce it was moving completely to the Microsoft Windows Phone ecosystem from its own known as Symbian. But Nokia wanted people to cover it, and we were invited.
We had a host in Rhiannon from 1000heads who coordinated travel logistics, getting around Berlin, making sure we were fed and access to Nokia staff. Never at any time were we asked to sign ANYTHING, never told or even hinted at what to do or any. In addition to the conference itself we attended a Nokia social and had a little time to see the city, and I gave a brief tour of the areas of Berlin I remembered from a vacation there a few years earlier. I’ll reiterate there was no expectation on what – and when – we wrote, and I did write a few posts including this one and this one and tweeted form the conference. And neither Nokia nor 1000heads ask me to write this – when I heard of what Samsung did, I recalled my time there and was compelled to write this on my own.
In one tech media account of the drama that Samsung put Clinton Jeff through it closed with, “basically, it's not a great idea to accept "free" trips or gifts from companies.” I disagree. First off, for decades journalists have been receiving free trips and all the trappings and still do. Of course buyer beware and know the reputation of the vendor and their consultants to determine it it’s right for you. If an invite comes to me from Nokia again, I will certainly accept it if it fits my schedule and interests.
To borrow from Lysander in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the course of true business never did run smooth. Whether we have meticulously planned or just thought things were going well, stuff happens to disrupt the flow of our workday. Where we can’t deny that it can possibly happen, we also can’t deny the impact it can have on the team or people you work with or manage.
Over the years I have lived through many stressful projects and events on the job. When I started out many times I would feel helpless, but as I moved up into manager and leadership roles, I always felt I needed to do something more – not just work hard to resolve the issue, but to ensure the morale of my team was addressed and supported when needed.
When I sat down to write this post, 2 stories immediately came to mind – 1 when I was on the receiving end of great leadership and the other when I took the lead to bolster my team’s morale.
It’s The Grande Things That Matter
When I approached my desk I knew things weren’t going well. A mass of people, from partners to directors, were huddled around where I sat next to my co-manager, whom I’ll call Becky. And the look on Becky’s face this early in the morning supported my concern.
The issue at hand was not a technical error, rather a business choice that was ultimately deemed incorrect, and now Becky, myself and our development team was deemed the critical path to resolve it. It resided in a part of the system that we had never worked on as we had no previous issues with it – the system was developed by consultants and turned over to the team we built from scratch. In the course of about an hour, there were meetings, finger-pointing, passing the buck, denials and a few heated words. But it was ultimately our job to troubleshoot the technology and work with a 3rd party vendor who provided part of the functionality to get the matter resolved.
As the dust settled from the meeting and we were back to our desks to start the triage, in slowly approached our new boss, the director of development, who started work that day. He did not charge in, rolling up his sleeves and diving into the problem, of which he really had less knowledge of than we did. Rather, he gradually approached us, said hi, acknowledged that there wasn’t much he could contribute to the work we were doing but knew we were on it and needed the time to do so.
And he offered to buy us a cup of coffee!
In the train wreck of our day so far, this was like a rainbow leading to a keg of beer next to a pot of gold. He caught us off guard, allowing is to take our mind off the problem for a minute, catch our breath and tell him how we wanted our coffee. That cup of coffee was one of the best I ever drank.
Talk Work And You Buy Your Own Lunch
At this same company, another fire drill happened a short while later. One of the top managers called for a meeting on a topic and wanted not only the managers but most of the development team – even my graphic designer – to attend. When he told me this I pushed back, as many times “all the king’s horses and men” were called out when they really weren’t needed, and I felt this was the case with this meeting as well. We did not need to get to the code and pixel level in this meeting, and as development manager I would work the team to create a solution to the issue.
Despite my common-sense plea, he demanded the team attend, and I apologized to my team as I told them they had to attend. Now I don’t want to brag but I was right – they did not need to attend, the meeting really went nowhere as was often the case and it sucked a couple of hours of our mornings we would never get back. The looks on my team’s faces were painful, and I felt bad for them but there was little I could do.
Well, there was little I could do about the meeting itself. When it ended and we walked back to our area I felt rumblings in my stomach as it was noon-time. So I gathered the team and I offered to take them to lunch at a new Italian restaurant that had opened nearby, and lunch was on the company under 1 condition – during lunch nobody could talk about work, and if they did, they would have to pay for their own meal. Color returned to the faces of everyone as we all walked together to lunch.
At the end of the meal I paid for everyone’s lunch – there was no talk of work at all, but just about every other topic in the universe was covered, from sports to religion to relationships to politics and beyond. We have had many team meetings and many people went out for lunch and drinks after work, but never had there been a gathering quite like this. I feel people got to really know each other a little better, and they were appreciative of my gesture.
Maintaining positive morale in the workplace takes more thought time than it does in its action. As leaders, you need to be cognizant of it and the actions you take do not need to be grandiose all the time, but timely and appropriate.
I welcome you to share your comments or stories about morale in the comments of this post.